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Merchant Marine Takes First Loss to Springfield

by Graham Knight

The Merchant Marine Academy Mariners football team suffered their first loss of the year to NEWMAC rival the Springfield Pride 28-23 on Saturday, October 30th.


The Mariners entered the week-nine match-up a perfect 7-0 on the year, and looking like they could have an undefeated season. Their offense had scored 56 points in a game three times in the 2021 season, and had scored more than 40 points in all but one of their seven games on the year.


But Springfield, the NEWMAC pre-season favorite, entered the contest on a 3-game win streak in which they outscored their conference opponents 162-24, including a 60-0 drubbing of Coast Guard on October 9th and a 56-7 win over Norwich the following week.


That set up the game between Merchant Marine and Springfield as a showdown between the top NEWMAC teams and the best indicator of what to expect from the Secretaries Cup when the Mariners face the Bears on the 13th.


The Mariners and the Pride played a much more competitive game, ending in a Springfield win, but Merchant Marine may have lost much more than the game.

Merchant Marine Academy senior quarterback Ian Blankenship carries the ball during a football game between the Mariners and the Springfield Pride at Stagg Field on the campus of Springfield College in Springfield, MA on October 30, 2021
Merchant Marine Academy senior quarterback Ian Blankenship carries the ball during a football game between the Mariners and the Springfield Pride at Stagg Field on the campus of Springfield College in Springfield, MA on October 30, 2021

"We're out of the mix for the playoffs unless we get really lucky," Mariners Head Coach Mike Toop said. "But you know, it's tough."


Despite the showers that greeted the Mariners when they entered the stadium, it only took Springfield 3:51 seconds to get on the scoreboard, taking an early 7-0 lead on a Patrick Ladas 2-yard touchdown run.


The Mariners answered right back, controlling the ball for over 6 minutes on a 14-play, 70-yard drive that was capped off by an Alec Kiernan 1-yard run to tie the score at 7.


Before the first quarter was over Merchant Marine took the lead, 9 to 7, after a bad snap on a Springfield punt attempt sailed high and through the end zone for a Mariners' safety.


Late in the second quarter Springfield took the lead back, 14 - 9, on a 4-yard touchdown run, again by Patrick Ladas.


At the start of the 3rd quarter the Mariners answered back with a 71-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Ian Blankenship to take the lead, and a 2-point conversion by Brian McGovern made the score 17 - 14.


In the end, it was ball control that may have cost Merchant Marines the game, and quite possibly the playoffs. The Mariners fumbled the ball 3 times and giving it up twice: once on a kickoff return and again on a runback. That's something that Head Coach Mike Toop wasn't very happy about.


"You can't turn the ball over three times," Toop said to BTL following the game. "You can't let them drive like they did. They made the big plays when they needed to, and we didn't. It's called football. They made more plays than we did."


Ironically, Springfield started the season in non-conference play with 14 fumbles, giving the ball up 9 times. At the start of the season the Pride were 239 out of 243 teams in lost fumbles. But going into conference play, the Pride have clearly gotten a handle on the football.


As for the Playoffs, the Mariners have a bye this coming week and their fate hangs in the balance as the other teams in the NEWMAC face conference opponents.